It has been buffeted by the pendulum swing of domestic politics and suffered looting that left it without some of its most precious items.
But Ivory Coast’s Museum of Civilisations is now back, and determined to recover its place as one of the richest museums of African art in the world – a place of “incomparable wealth”, as Senegal’s late poet-president Leopold Sedar Senghor said in a 1971 visit.
Looted four decades later during a political and military showdown, the museum shut its doors for a two-year refurbishment, reopening in July with redecorated rooms, modern lighting and a new conference centre, restaurant and garden.
The first exhibition since the renovation is rightfully called “Renaissance”.
It places the spotlight on a selection of a hundred of the museum’s finest pieces, from the palaeolithic era to contemporary art.
“We can consider ourselves lucky to have such a beautiful collection,” museum director Silvie Memel Kassi said.
“It’s an asset – a collection of 15 000 pieces from across every region.”
But she still mourns the pillage that occurred in 2011, during a post-electoral time of anarchy in the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, that claimed some 3 000 lives.
“That really left us with a bitter taste in the mouth,” she said. “The items that were looted [120 items] were major works: sacred pieces, objects made of wax… Our estimate is that almost €4bn was lost, Memel Kassi said.
In the coming months, the museum plans to put on a “ghost collection” exhibition to keep the memory of the vanished pieces alive and to promote recognition of illicit trafficking in historical objects, which circulate in a market financed by many private collectors who are often not overly troubled by origins.
Founded in 1942 when France was the colonial power in much of west Africa, the museum is itself a work of art with 20 columns finely sculpted in wood.
The renovated premises give special place to contemporary artists with a hall set aside for people like Ivorian sculptor Jems Koko Bi, while the garden displays recent work.
“We deliberately speak of the museum of civilisations,” the director said.
“We wanted to show that the artists whose creations are today regarded as ‘ancient works’ are the very same as Africans producing contemporary work.
“We’re living through a renaissance even at national level with cultural and artistic development… We have the ancient aspect in the museum collections and the contemporary work in the creations of young sculptors.”
The museum is also planning an exhibition to highlight ties between Picasso and Ivorian sculpture on the heels of a “Primitive Picasso” show at the Quai Branly, the Paris museum dedicated to the indigenous art and cultures of Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, which opened in 2006.
More than 10 000 people have visited the museum in Abidjan since it reopened, but the curator hopes to raise this figure tenfold over the course of the year, since tourists are returning to the country.
Engaging students and schoolchildren in the collection is also a priority.
“The museum is also the memory of a people,” Memel Kassi observed. “It’s important to see it discovered by the Ivorians.”
Meet Josh Egesi, A Multidisciplinary Artist
Anttention Media had the pleasure of interviewing a talented guy who currently ranks as the largest bottle-caps portrait in Africa. A true creative soul who has wholly given himself to the pursuit of creative excellence.
Joshua Egesi was a six year old primary two pupil when he began imitating the comic drawings of his elder sister. At that tender age, even if he could not properly express it in his incoherent babbles, he was fascinated by the idea of drawings. And just like that, spurred by the ‘magic’ of his sister’s pencil, at the age of seven, he wanted to be an artist.
In pursuance of his dream of becoming an artist, and armed with an OND certificate from Federal Polytechnic Auchi, Edo state, the inspired youngster decided to further develop his artist’s acumen. Hence, he proceeded to the University of Benin to enroll for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts.
Like Cyrus Kabiru, the Kenyan ‘thrash collector‘, Josh sees himself as an environmental artist, Although, this perception was informed by his encounter with bottle cover as a medium in late 2015 when he was an intern at the Environmental Art Garden in Abuja. Being the restless mind that he was, he concluded that just like every other waste in the garden, the bottle caps also had to be transformed into art. He consequently figured that he could make his art more subjective with the bottle caps and immediately picked inspiration from pixels which, en-mass makes up an actual picture.
Egesi believes that art should project something concrete, not only mirror the society, but go a step further in proffering solutions to the multi-faceted problems that abound, especially in a clime like Nigeria.
Artist’s Social Media Links
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We are happy to have featured this amazing talent on HANDS our creativity centered programme and hope to invite him to our annual creative exhibition show aimed at promoting African art and exhibition. His details are available here and his talent ready to serve a populace.
Facebook: Joshua Egesi
Anchor: Tolu ‘Taraj’ Omisakin
Camera Works: Chris Mokwunye ‘Krismok’
Graphics: Michael ‘Surplus’ Egbo
Music: Oluwatosin ‘O’tea’ Aphia
Let’s take your craft to the world! Booking Agent Chibuike Obi (email@example.com)
Why we can’t return African artworks – museum
The National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian museum) has explained why it cannot return the original works of art from African countries back to their places of origin, amidst calls for their repatriation.
The Director Emerita of the museum, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, stated that the documentation of original artifacts from such countries, including Nigeria, at the museum was important to enable the institution to expose the rich African culture and history to the rest of the world.
Cole spoke during a press briefing to mark the grand opening of the national museum exhibition gallery of a former photographer for the Royal Court of Benin, the late Chief Solomon Alonge, in Benin, Edo State.
She explained, “It is incredibly important in our museum to honor prominence, to honor where each and every object has come from. If we are ever aware that an object has come into our museum because it was stolen, we go through an enormous effort.
“If every work of African art is returned to Africa, how will the rest of the world know of your art, know of your culture and know of your history? I cannot speak for the British museum. I cannot speak for the museum in Belgium or the museum in Amsterdam.
“But I can speak for my museum, to tell you that it is with enormous respect that we document where every work has come from and we do everything in our power to use that art to tell your stories.”
Cole further stated that the exhibition, which was the first of its kind in Africa, would help to lift up the power of creativity, as the works contained elements that bound the human race together.
In his remark, the US Consul-General to Nigeria, Mr. John Bray, stated that the exhibition at the Benin National Museum would go a long way in preserving the social history of the Benin people and its traditional leaders for future research and educational programmes.
According to him, arts, including photographs, represented one of the most important principles of democracy in the United States of America, as avenues for freedom of expression.
“The US government seeks to show its respect for other cultures by assisting efforts to preserve cultural heritage. The US has a long history of supporting the preservation of cultural heritage in countries around the world, including Nigeria,” he said.
The Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Mr. Yusuf Usman, noted that the project would assist the Federal Government to plan, train manpower and provide an opportunity for Nigerians to understand the past, present and future.
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